Thursday, June 18, 2009

what is post-post-modern?

Modernism invited artists to play with technique, to utilize the medium as medium in their storytelling.

Post-modernism encouraged the use of technique for its own sake: story and character, depiction and meaning became subordinate to self-awareness, self-reference, and alinear linguistic puzzles. If there was a surface narrative in the post-modern work, it was always subordinate to the numerous subnarrative strands which served to subvert it, seeping in through the interstices, reversing the author / reader power structure, etc.

But what of the post-post-modern narrative arts? Once the door to self-awareness and self-reference has been opened, it can never be closed. Nevertheless, the luster of for its own sake self-referentialism has worn thin.

Let's look at three strategies for bridging this gap, for moving beyond the self-indulgence of post-modernism while retaining its techniques; and reclaiming (if at all possible) the traditional narrative ideas of story and character and meaning.

David Foster Wallace, for example, explicitly speaks of finding a "compromise" between a fractional nonlinearity and a seductive and compelling story in this interview with Charlie Rose, discussing Infinite Jest from 19 or so min. and post-modernism ("after modernism") from 21 or so min.

What's of interest about Infinite Jest (in this context) is that the meaning of the novel has nothing to do with its techniques (or language, relativism, power-structures, etc.). The novel is a deep investigation of the contemporary American cultural of addiction, and unabashedly so. But it is not language which is convicted, but something subtler. And at all times, the individual is held to task and examined, rather than subordinated to the political and cultural commentary.

The centrality of the individual and his struggle to construct meaning in his life is also at the heart of Lars von Trier's The Five Obstructions, a film about filmmaking in which one director forces another to repeatedly remake his most famous short, each time following a different set of bizarre rules. Despite the blatant self-referentialism and absorbtion in the medium of film itself, The Five Obstructions culminates in a touching a deeply humanistic affirmation of the human spirit, one which feels all the less trite for transcending its deconstructionist trappings.

As a final example, consider the Southpark 2-part episode, "The Cartoon Wars." A cartoon about cartoons and censorship, which itself is censored. The creators' commentary on the second episde is here:

Not only is the storyline self-referential and self-aware in the extreme, it overtly comments on the need for story and character development rather then mere fractured joke telling. Although the ultimate message is political, the emphasis is again on the responsibility of the individual rather than the culpability of society, language, or power structures.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Interesting. Things are shifting (or already have shifted) but it's not always clear where to yet. Theories of culture after postmodernism have been put forth by Raoul Eshelman ("performatism"), Nicolas Bourriaud ("altermodernism"), and myself ("digimodernism"), among others. See what you think.